Phosphorus Case Study
Ohio Lake Erie Phosphorus Reduction Efforts
(2/18/05 version)


  • In 1983, Annex 3 of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement established phosphorus reduction goals for each of the Great Lakes and called for the development of specific plans to achieve them.
  • The Ohio portion of the established Lake Erie phosphorus reduction goal is 1,385 metric tons.
  • Eighty-two percent (82%) of the 1983 annual phosphorus load to Lake Erie was attributed to nonpoint source. Eighteen percent (18%) of 1983 annual phosphorus load to Lake Erie was attributed to point sources. Therefore, the Ohio strategy allocated phosphorus reduction goals accordingly (82% to NPS;18% to point sources).
  • Agriculture, being the principal land use, was allocated the largest portion of the nonpoint source reduction goal.

Ohio Phosphorus Reduction Strategy

  • The Ohio phosphorus reduction goal (1,382 metric tons) for Lake Erie was established through a state task force. The target and associated strategy, to reduce phosphorus content in sediments, was approved by USEPA.
  • The phoshorus reduction goal was allocated as follows: agricultural (890 metric tons), non- agricultural (130 metric tons) and point source (365 metric tons).
  • In 1989, with support from Section 319 grant funds, the total basin goals for agricultural and were allocated to each county, based on percentage of cropland and urban area. County steering committees formed to develop local phosphorus reduction strategies to reach established goals.
  • The Great Lakes Regional Water Quality Initiative was established jointly by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), Ohio EPA, the Soil Conservation Service (now NRCS) and USEPA. The key elements were:
    • Soil Conservation Service provided support for six regional water quality coordinators to accelerate technical and informational assistance programs. Responsibilities included the development of nonpoint source pollution management plans and education programs for pesticide and nutrient management.
    • ASCS (Agricultural Stabilization & Conservation Service; now Farm Service Agency) ] increased cost-share assistance to landowners in the Lake Erie drainage basin.
    • ODNR established a manure and nutrient management program which allowed 15 counties to hire technicians to work with livestock operators to establish environmentally-safe management and handling of animal waste (estimated to contribute 20 metric tons of phosphorus loading to Lake Erie.

Results (as of 1993)

  • The Maumee River basin in northwest Ohio is the largest contributor of sediment and phosphorus to Lake Erie. Historically, the river typically carried 1.32 million tons of sediment and 2.315 tons of phosphorus into Lake Erie annually. There are decreasing long-term nutrient and sediment concentration trends in the Maumee River (1975-1990) (Baker, unpublished manuscript, 1991).
  • Forty-one percent (41%) of the agricultural phosphorus reduction goal was met in 1991 (Soil Conservation Service); three counties (Defiance, Fulton and Williams) achieved their phosphorus reduction goals in 1992.
  • From 1989 to 1992 no-till acreage in the Lake Erie Basin increased 500%. In 1992, a total of 556 farmers purchased conservation tillage equipment. Farmers agreed to carry out a Resource Management System or conservation plan prepared by SCS on approximately 165,000 acres.
  • By 1992, $658,000 in cost-share funds for agricultural management measures, to purchase new or used farm conservation equipment or modifying existing equipment to leave more residue on the soil surface, had been provided through Section 319 grants in the Lake Erie Basin. An additional $841,000 in special Clean Water Act funds was provided in the form of a conservation tillage equipment incentive program for farmers in the Maumee and Black River watersheds. The above-mentioned funds were matched with local funds of $8-10 for every $1 in federal grant funding.